I am a strong woman now and I am changing my community for the better.

Mayawati was illiterate for much of her life. As a Dalit woman, she faced discrimination and was ashamed of who she was. With support from our partner Feminist Dalit Organization (FEDO), Mayawati joined a women-led group and completed training courses. This helped her to realise how important her voice is.

35. Mayawati Paxi, aged 42, member of Shiba Madhesi Dalit Women’s Group in Purina Village, Nepalgunj, Nepal.

"Before I joined FEDO I was illiterate, I couldn’t even write my name. I wore my shawl to cover my face because of the way people treated me as a member of the Dalit community. People would judge me if I showed my face so I couldn’t let anyone see it; I hid it from my neighbours, my mother and father-in-law and the entire community. Covering my face made it difficult to do anything including the household chores!

In 2013, FEDO formed a group for Dalit women to help us set up a savings account so we could become economically empowered. I heard about the group and the training courses FEDO was offering. When I attended the group, I felt great, I knew I wanted more from life and knew I needed to make a change. I didn’t want to live in the shadows anymore, covering my face, not having any dignity and being scared of the people who discriminated against me.

I took part in leadership training with FEDO, and now I know how to stand up and speak out. I learnt how the local funding for Dalit people is distributed to the local Village Development Committee (VDC). It gave me the confidence to show my face for the first time and the strength to stand up and be myself. I was oppressed by my husband and his parents for so long, I had to obey them, they controlled me. I no longer obey their oppressive and unfair rules, now, I finally feel free.

Through attending the group and the training, I heard about the Ward Citizen Forum (a joint multi donor funded programme implemented by the Ministry of Local Development, supported by 6 UN agencies). I was invited to participate in it, which was a big step for me. I now feel my voice is being heard and I can talk about my problems and the problems in my community; things like electricity, sanitation and lack of citizenship cards for Dalit people. Thanks to FEDO, we know about the budgets available from the Government for Dalit women - we have seen many positive changes now that we know our rights.

Women in the Dalit community are economically poor – they can’t afford to send their children to school. We can take out a bank loan but the interest rates are so high and leave us in terrible debt. It is important that we are in control of our finances. Through the savings scheme FEDO run, I now have money for seeds so I can earn a living from agriculture. This means I can pay the school fees for my child, so they can live above the poverty line.

It is important for the next generation of Dalit women to form groups like this and unite to protect their rights. Before, I was scared to do or say anything, now I am able to express my views and fight for them. I want all the Dalit women to have this strength so we can unite. I am a strong woman now and I am changing my community for the better as I speak up and create change."